The Harlot’s Happy Lot

She is caught up and tossed down into dusty streets. Her vision flares in the sun and there are throaty shouts on every side, garbled and vicious. She clutches a thin sheet up and over her shoulders, hiding her body from eyes. She is not very old yet and she is confused and she does not want to cry and she is so very scared.

They had snatched her, minutes ago, from a man whose name she did not know – she had learned early on to not ask her men for their names or ask them any questions at all if it could be helped. So she had not asked any questions and had simply done whatever he told her to do. In the middle of the whole business, the door had been forced, suddenly and split inwards and before she could collect her thoughts to lie or fight, she had been yanked out of bed by hot, hairy arms, slicked with sweat. Hauled out into the silent and impassive sun.

“Adultery!” Some are Pharisees, she thinks, and some have been customers, but most are just men. There is a lusty fever in their shouts, an eagerness to prove their indignation with blood. “Adultery! Stone the adulteress!” She is in a heap, with dry dirt swirling up around her, and she’s staring at the ground. Doors flap open and heads poke out for this most irresistible of religious ceremonies: the public execution. Mob behind. Crowds flanking. All that remains, she knows, is someone to judge. (more…)

The Denial of St. Peter

“Are they going to have an execution?” The girl asks while the fire spits about her and the Ethiopian. He shushes her and shakes his head.

“He’s too popular. People wouldn’t stand for it.”

“Does Rome care what people think then?”

“Rome doesn’t, but Pilate cares very much what people think.”

“Because he is kind?”

“No, girl. Not because he is kind.”

“Why then?”

“You will understand one day.”

Shadows flit about their faces while men’s voices blast in larger circles off in the darkness. When the fire leaps up, it reveals – some ways off – Jesus of Nazareth, bound, surrounded, and looking anything but popular. Escape seems to be the last thing on his mind, and so his gold-plated guards mutter curses about the cold and fiddle with their spear butts. The girl glances at Jesus, but looks away quickly when she sees that he is looking at her. She had seen him only once before, and then on a donkey. The wind picks up, and the fire burns small and blue – the face of Jesus darts back into blackness and the girl sighs a little, with relief.

A mountain of a man shuffles up to the fire and stands next to the girl, his great hands outstretched. She observes him honestly, for he seems uninterested in her, the Ethiopian or anybody. There is a simplicity to his face, and this simplicity seems familiar to her, but from where she does not remember.

(more…)

A Parable in Repose

The very old man sits up in his bed and turns his face toward his bedroom window, eastward to where the sun will come up if it ever comes. Only a gritty swash at the soul of the horizon suggests morning. The days bring a little trouble and good God knows what else.

The very old man gets out of bed and snatches a hefty cedar stick – bone white in the darkness of his bedroom. He dips the tip of it into a clay pot of oil by the door to the outer twilight. He then tips the stick into the little lamp by his door and starts a good torch fire. This, he thinks, will be the only light in the whole of the world this morning.

Rolling from the door to his house is a dusty path that peels out to the absolute of the horizon. If the sun rises, it issues from the vanishing point of the road itself. It is this road that the very old man walks now, one hand warmed by his torch, the other tucked into the rough folds of his robes to keep from freezing. The wind tosses about dust and sand and stones and ash and it tosses his great grey beard like tongues of flame.

From behind, a voice calls, “Father, it’s early.”

The very old man keeps walking and says nothing.

“Come back and sleep, Father. I’ll walk you there myself when it’s dawn.”

But the very old man has not slept in many months.

“He’ll not be there,” the boy mutters as the very old man strives away from the house out into the cold and the morning. (more…)

The Valley of the Shadow of Bible Verse Memorization

When I was young, memorizing Bible verses was to me what different knots and coin tricks were to other boys: a rite of passage. I would have preferred cards or comics or anything really to memorizing the Bible, but my little Midwestern church was convinced that the path to competent adulthood went through committing various swatches of Scripture to memory. And, to ensure that our maturation was unencumbered by the many rebellions of youth, we were started on this practice very young. I could recite snippets of John’s Gospel before I could say the Pledge of Allegiance.

The seemingly impossible feat of sitting dozens of crooked-toothed, freckle-faced, mud-flecked boys down around Bibles was accomplished through one of the church’s favorite tricks: reappropriation; take something fun, add something Christian, and see if the fun sticks.

In this case, the hijacked activity was Boy Scouts. Our church started a boy’s club in which boys received vests, and then recitation of different verses earned a variety of badges and pins for that vest. You started out as a “Skipper,” and when you memorized enough of the Bible you became a “Hiker.” And a few particularly gifted memorizers graduated onto become “Climbers” and after that, one assumes, “Pastors.” What memorizing the Bible had to do with skipping or hiking was never rightly explained, but it took me some years before I started to suspect that I’d been duped.

(more…)

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